Symposium focuses on range of disasters
HUNTINGTON -- Emergency responders, hospital officials and funeral directors from across the region and as far away as North Carolina spent Wednesday learning about medical helicopters, hospital evacuations and contaminated water response.
It was all part of the three-day, 13th annual All Hazards Management Symposium. Approximately 100 people are expected to attend by week's end.
Beckley Firefighter Andrew Garland paid particular attention to HealthNet's presentation about response to a downed medical helicopter, an increasing concern with 12 helicopters based in West Virginia with additional aircraft from other states.
Garland told HealthNet's safety officer, Jeff White, firefighters routinely assist in landing the choppers. He said afterward Wednesday's advice was invaluable as crews regularly train for house fires, making him more uncomfortable with the idea of something as rare as a helicopter crash.
"It's more self awareness," he said. "It's things that make me anxious as a first responder. When I'm first on scene, I've got to make these quick decisions. I have no choice. So I want to have something to draw from, that gives me an immediate, quick outline."
Discussion shifted late morning to hospital evacuations, the second consecutive year the issue has been addressed at the local symposium.
Andy Watson, a registered nurse at St. Mary's Medical Center, said organizers wanted to revisit the issue to better equip more hospital officials. Watson said a power outage during the June 2012 derecho at Cabell Huntington Hospital enhanced local concern.
Watson joined Wednesday's attendees in gleaning advice from Dr. Al Villacara, director of systems emergency preparedness at New York Presbyterian, where officials dealt with Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
"He has been at the door," Watson said of Villacara. "He's been up close and personal with it. ... Hopefully it never will (happen), but it can, it has and when it does we need to be prepared."
Villacara praised the focus Huntington officials have placed on hospital evacuation. His hospital sought similar advice from hospital officials in Joplin, Mo., where a massive tornado impacted its operation in May 2011.
The physician said New York's best lessons involved lead time as the biggest ally and strength of area alliances. Huntington's weather may not provide the advance notice of a coastal storm, but Villacara said strengthening partnerships is just as important.
"To know your colleagues during times of peace, so that when disasters occur you know each other's strengths and weaknesses," he said. "You know what abilities each other has, resources and things of that nature."
Wednesday's guests spoke at St. Mary's Center for Education along 5th Avenue. The afternoon consisted of a water contamination response presentation by Mike Dorsey of the state's Division of Environmental Protection and a visit from a local ensign at the U.S. Coast Guard.
Thursday's session returns to the Fire Academy, where speakers will focus on assisting those in the funeral profession. Topics include fatality management, school safety and inland waterway safety.
Tuesday involved a tabletop exercise at the Fire Academy in preparation for June's large-scale, riverboat emergency drill.
The symposium is sponsored by the Tri-State Fire Academy, St. Mary's Medical Center, the state Funeral Directors Association, Cabell-Wayne Local Emergency Planning Committee and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Follow reporter Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.
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